Cartegena, Colombia is a hub of yacht activity and the best place to secure trips to Central America or to the Caribbean.
To find passage on boats heading to Panama check at the yacht club in Cartegena or at Casa Viena hostel. If coming form Panama try the Voyager hostel in Panama City, the yacht club in Colon, or anyone in Portobelo.
Waiting for a boat to leave may take some time. You must be flexible, although if you have enough money to dish out (I’m talking thousands) to charter a boat you will be fine. I personally had to wait more than two weeks in Panama (could have been much worse, I know) to set sail. For the backpacker crowd, most pay anywhere from $200-300 for transport, accommodation and all food. If you need to transport a motorcycle, one of the few ways to do so, the price is usually doubled.
Boats, and their captains, vary. Some yachts are just large enough to tightly fit 4 people. Others are 75-foot monsters with room for ten and all the extras you could ever want. Make sure you see the boat and get to know the captain before you make any decision. The trip can be quite dangerous and you want to be as safe as possible.
Getting to or from the continent by boat is probably the most fascinating route you can take. Well, other than trekking for weeks through the Darien Gap, one of the most dangerous tracts of land in the world. The gap is the only place where the 16,000-mile Pan-American highway which runs from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego takes a break, making it impossible to drive to across continents.
The trip takes you across the world’s fourth roughest waterway, once the world’s biggest pirate highway. The trip will take a three or four days depending on weather and most boats will stop in San Blas islands just off Panama, the most beautiful, unspoiled and isolated islands in the Caribbean that are home to no resorts only a loose confederation of Kuna Yala Indians.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.